The college football season is coming ever closer as we close out June. Today, we continue our 100 in 100 college football previews with the No. 74 team, the Wake Forest Demon Deacons.
Wake Forest finished last season at 6-7, but it was a more disappointing 6-7 than most. The Deacons were the runners-up in the Atlantic Division of the ACC last season behind the Clemson Tigers with a conference record of 5-3, but won just one game after October 22 (a mark of just 1-5). Their inability to finish was what defined Wake Forest in 2011, exemplified by their struggles late in games, where they were outscored by opponents 110-54. As Jim Grobe enters his 12th season at Wake, can he get his team to finish strong in 2012?
Wake will return just five starters from their 2011 offense, but do retain some of their biggest playmakers from last season. The biggest strength of this team is going to be the continued growth of their quarterback, Tanner Price.
Price enters his junior year as the unquestioned leader of this Wake Forest offense. Last season, Price led the team, throwing for 3,017 yards and 20 touchdowns with just six interceptions. He’ll look to continue his maturation in his third season as a starter and become one of the elite talents of the ACC as the Deacons continue to use the passing game to attack their opponents.
The Deacons will look to junior Michael Campanaro, who was second on the team last season in all purpose yards, to take on a larger role in the offense at wide receiver. Wake will also look to senior Terence Davis, who was a weapon in the red zone last season, to step up his game. Davis finished 2011 catching just 20 passes for 269 yards, but found the endzone five times.
The offense will also be looking to replace its top two tight ends off of last season’s squad, which could open the door for incoming freshman Anthony Rook to make an immediate impact. The 6’3″, 225 pound recruit out of Greenville, North Carolina, is the 24th rated tight end in the 2012 recruiting class.
One of the biggest question marks for this team is their offensive line. Wake Forest will look to replace four of their five starters on the line, with only center Garrick Williams coming back. The only other offensive lineman with starting experience is junior Steven Chase, who has just three starts in his career. Overcoming this group’s lack of experience will be a major factor in how well the offense operates this season.
Head coach Jim Grobe calls his familiar 3-4 defense in 2012 with hopefully better results than 2011. One of the benefits of the 3-4 is supposedly an increased ability to generate quarterback pressure, but Wake Forest generated just 11 sacks all of last season, averaging out to less than one per game. The defense will need to get more aggressive to help their 65th ranked defense improve in 2012.
The Deacons will look to juniors Kris Redding and Zach Thompson to be more active from their defensive end positions, where the pair combined for just half a sack in 2011. The secondary will also turn to a pair of untested juniors in Daniel Mack and Duran Lowe to replace the teams leading tackler (SS Cyhl Quarles) and leader in interceptions (FS Josh Bush) from last season.
The team will rely on junior Nikita Whitlock to anchor the nose tackle position in that 3-4 scheme and open up avenues for senior Scott Betros to make plays from his middle linebacker position. Grobe will hope to have his front seven more active this season so that a safety doesn’t lead the team in tackles again in 2012 as Quarles did with 101 tackles in 2011.
Wake Forest has an opportunity to have a fast start to the season in 2012, much like they did in 2011. They play four of their first five games at home, with seemingly easy games against Liberty, Army, and Duke in the friendly confines of Winston-Salem.
They open conference play against North Carolina on September 8, before hitting the road to Tallahassee to take on Florida State. These games are their only real tests through September, and a 4-1 record isn’t out of the question.
However, they’ll still need to prove they can finish as the competition ramps up as the season wears on. Tough games against Clemson and road tests at NC State and Notre Dame could be stumbling blocks for this team as another 6-6 finish and a low-level bowl invitation remains very likely.
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